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Authors: Hester Browne

The Honeymoon Hotel

BOOK: The Honeymoon Hotel
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First published in Great Britain in 2014 by

Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
London
W1U 8EW

Copyright © 2014 Hester Browne

The moral right of Hester Browne to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

PB ISBN 978 1 78206 569 2
EBOOK ISBN 978 1 78206 570 8

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

You can find this and many other great books at:
www.quercusbooks.co.uk

Hester Browne
is the author of numerous bestselling novels including
The Runaway Princess, The Vintage Girl
and
The Finishing Touches
. She divides her time between London and Herefordshire.

 

For Kathryn Taussig, with love and thanks

PROLOGUE
 

I flattened myself against the marble pillar and peered round into the elegant cream-and-silver function room, making sure no one in the congregation spotted me.

They didn’t, of course. They were too busy admiring the hand-tied globes of roses decorating the end chairs and reading the poems in the order of service.

I was particularly pleased about the poems, which were actually snippets of Cole Porter love songs, not the hackneyed old Winnie-the-Pooh or ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ clichés. I mean, who in their right mind wants to be compared to an English summer’s day? English summer days: a bit wet, famously unpredictable and prone to clouding over. Like today. It had only just stopped raining and the distinctive smell of damp morning suit and hairspray was rising mustily off the congregation.

There’s nothing you can do about the weather
, I reminded myself.

A few people had their heads close together, obviously chatting about something. I strained my ears to catch what they were saying, but I couldn’t make anything out over the sweet bubbling of harp music – selections from
The Nutcracker Suite
 –
again, unusual but classic. The smiles and quick glances of anticipation suggested that no one, so far, was making much of the fact that the wedding should have started four minutes ago.

I checked my watch, something ‘borrowed’ from my mum. Five minutes ago. This meant that Anthony was now at least thirty-five minutes late.

My stomach turned a slow, deliberate loop and my ‘calming’ breakfast of porridge and blueberries repeated on me. But what could I do now? Apart from phoning, texting, ringing the police and sending one of the bridesmaids out to check his flat … all of which I’d done already.

The congregation didn’t seem to have noticed that there were two conspicuously empty seats at the front right-side of the church, where Anthony and Phil, the best man, should have been. To their credit, the ushers were carrying on as if nothing was amiss – but that was probably because half of them hadn’t realized something
was
amiss. They weren’t the most switched-on ushers I’d ever met, possibly thanks to the number of head-on tackles they’d received playing rugby with Anthony, but I was actually quite grateful for that now.

Six minutes late. A late guest scuttled in, surprised not to be late after all. Seven.

The weird thing was, although my brain was racing and popping and I could feel every one of the thirty hair pins digging into my scalp, the rest of my body felt positively sleepy. I’d been twitching randomly for the last seventy-two hours, but now my arms and legs felt as if lead weights were attached to them. I’d
planned and planned and planned, but this – along with the rain – was the only eventuality I didn’t have a solution for.

The harpist came to the end of the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ and glanced across at me, her eyebrows raised.

I hesitated, then made a circling
play something else
sign.

She frowned, pushed back her long blonde hair and started again, and this time three or four of the congregation looked up, because it was now very obvious that something wasn’t right.

Please let me wake up
, I thought.
Or at least send on my old French teacher dressed as a walrus so I know it’s a bad dream
. But at that moment Andrea, my chief bridesmaid, appeared with her mobile phone in one hand and a white handkerchief in the other. She looked as if she’d drawn the short straw. A very, very short straw.

Somewhere at the back of my mind I noted that Andrea was a trained First Aider. It was always a good idea to have one bridesmaid who could do First Aid. I’d read that somewhere.

‘Rosie,’ she whispered. ‘I’ve got some bad news.’

‘The caterer’s broken down?’ I whispered back hopefully. ‘The photographer’s lost the list of shots?’

‘No.’ She bit her lip. ‘It’s Ant. He’s not coming.’

CHAPTER ONE
 

People make a lot of assumptions about wedding planners.

Either we’re hopeless romantics (I’m not).

Or we’re terminal singletons (I live with my boyfriend, Dominic – he’s a food critic. We’ve been together two years).

Or we got married once ourselves and loved it so much that we decided to make an entire career out of it. (This only happens in films. Trust me, making six hundred yards of gingham bunting may be fun for your own wedding but for someone else’s it’s a form of prison work.)

In my professional opinion, and I’ve done quite a few weddings now, the secret to being the best wedding planner is this:

Never think of yourself as a wedding planner
. Because that way madness lies.

My name is Rosie McDonald. I’m an Events Manager.

*

If you chose to get married at London’s Bonneville Hotel, located down a discreet side street off Piccadilly, you’d be following in the glittering footsteps of film stars, European royals, writers, politicians and wits, all of whom had passed through the polished brass revolving doors over the years, usually in dark
glasses. You could have your ceremony in our airy Palm Court, or in the pale green and gold Tea Salon, or, as most winter brides did, by a roaring fire in the oak-panelled Reading Room. But nearly all our summer weddings, however, took place in the walled garden.

I loved every elegant Art Deco inch of the Bonneville, and had done ever since I’d tucked in the hospital corners on my first bed as a temporary chambermaid during the school holidays, but the rose garden had a special magic. Even without the bridal arch of jasmine and honeysuckle set up by the marble fountain, and the rows of gold chairs arranged on the lawn, the shady green courtyard summed up the discreet glamour that infused the whole hotel like the heady scent of white flowers and beeswax polish. It was secret, unexpectedly romantic. A quiet spot in the middle of London that you felt only you knew about. Well, you, and the Aga Khan, Richard Burton and some elderly Duchesses from countries that no longer existed.

On the other side of the ivy-covered wall was the wide open space of Green Park, bustling with tourists and office workers, but on our side, beyond the French windows of the black-and-white tiled lobby, was a peaceful oasis, drifting with fat pink tea roses and banks of lavender: a perfect setting in which to sip Darjeeling tea or read a film script or, as Clementine Wright was doing at 3 p.m. today, marry the stockbroker of your dreams.

Guests in morning dress and tiny hats had already begun to wander through the hotel lobby for the biggest and most important event I’d managed in the five years I’d been in charge of weddings. Jason’s mother was an MP, Clementine’s
father was a rear admiral, and the Wright-Atkinson table plan had taken more strategic planning than a G8 summit, given the hordes of cousins on Clementine’s side. Bonneville weddings were intimate and chic, on account of the limited space, and in order to keep the numbers manageable we’d had, with regret, to restrict Clemmie’s guest list to adults only. This didn’t go down well in certain quarters, but as I told Clemmie, who sat nervously shredding tissues in my office while I fielded tricky phone calls from one or two parents, emotional blackmail and threats were water off a duck’s back to me. For me, child-free weddings were a simple catering/logistics issue, not the Christmas-card-list-deleting family nightmare they could be for the poor bride.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about making Clemmie’s wedding everything she’d dreamed of; I did. I just couldn’t do my job if I cried as much as my brides tended to.

With those guest-list issues in mind, I’d added an extra check to my all-important list so I could cast a discreet eye over the arrivals. In my experience, the more posh the wedding, the more outrageous the liberties taken with invitations, dress codes and so on.

The lobby was filled with the sound of Vivaldi’s
Four Seasons
and the scent of calla lilies, as I smiled a warm welcome to the guests and directed them towards the French windows. I was wearing a vintage-style green suit with a nipped-in jacket to flatter my waist, which was my best feature, and a skirt that covered my knees, which definitely weren’t. This was my
favourite wedding outfit; it was important to look stylish, but not to be mistaken for a guest, hence the
slightly
office-y floral blouse, plus my shoes were on the sensible side, and I wasn’t wearing a hat. I couldn’t wear a hat anyway. I had the kind of unstyle-able short brown hair that millinery tended to slide off, as if in an attempt to get away, but I
was
wearing a floral fascinator – which had the advantage of concealing a tiny headpiece, through which the rest of the events staff could relay any fires that needed putting out. (Not literally, of course. Although you could never be sure with best men.)

It was twenty-five minutes to wedding march, a critical moment in any wedding timetable. I stepped back into an alcove so I could check my lists. My whole life was comprised of lists; I even had a list of lists to ensure I was carrying the right ones.

Bride
: Clemmie had been in the bridal suite overnight, with her two
bridesmaids
and her
mother
.
Tick
.

Ushers
: I’d counted all
eight
men (mostly called Josh and Hugo),
outfits
and
buttonholes
correct.
Tick tick tick
.

Best man
:
Ring
in pocket;
speech
vetted;
going-away car
outside;
keys
for going-away car safely in
my
pocket.

Groom
: Most important of all, Jason was in the building. I never relaxed properly until I’d seen the groom arrive, established that he was happy, and then put him somewhere safe. Jason was currently parked in the anteroom off the Palm Court, with a glass of brandy and the best man. He couldn’t leave there without at least two champagne waiters noticing.

Not that I would ever
prevent
a groom from changing his
mind at the last minute, but I wanted to know about it before it happened. Ditto the bride. Damage limitation was another major part of my role and – touch wood – so far every wedding I’d planned had actually gone ahead.

Jan, the local registrar, and her deputy were due to arrive at 2.40 p.m., and I was making my way to the reception area to meet them when I was accosted by a ball of energy surging at high speed towards me, almost bursting out of its tight pink cardigan.

It was Gemma, my assistant.

‘Gemma, what have I said about running before a wedding?’ I reminded her, under my breath. ‘
It spooks the guests
.’

‘Sorry, Rosie.’ Gemma’s round brown eyes darted from one side to the other beneath her jet-black fringe as if she was being followed by a giant rolling rock or similar. I didn’t take her behaviour as an immediate sign of disaster; Gemma tended towards the dramatic, which was why, in addition to being my events assistant and the PA to Laurence Bentley Douglas, my boss and the hotel owner, she actively enjoyed doing extra shifts on reception, where most of the gossip originated.

‘Emergency upstairs,’ she hissed out of the corner of her mouth.

‘A real emergency?’ I asked with a fixed smile, as a grey-haired man sporting a lot of naval medals sailed past. ‘Or just wobbles?’

‘Meltdown. Code red.’

I stopped in my tracks. I hadn’t had easy-going interior decorator Clemmie down for a potential meltdown.

‘I see,’ I said, removing a less-than-clean glass from a tray of champagne flutes going past. ‘Well, let’s go and mop it up.’

*

Inside the bridal suite, a luxurious set of interconnected rooms decorated in delicate lilacs and creams where some riotous parties had apparently taken place during the hotel’s heyday during the Blitz, final preparations should have been in full swing.

Only they weren’t. Everyone was on their mobile phones, which was against my normal rules. Nothing ruined the special pre-wedding atmosphere for the bridal party like guests pestering bridesmaids for directions or texting photos of their outfits to check they weren’t clashing.

Clementine was sniffing and texting frantically in front of the huge circular mirror of the dressing table while the make-up artist dabbed at her mascara and the photographer took ‘reportage’ shots of the bride’s mother, Linda, sipping champagne and trying to look serene at the same time as holding in her stomach.

‘Hello, ladies!’ I said with a bright smile. ‘You all look beautiful! Clemmie, I hope those are happy tears?’

Clementine’s bridesmaids, Hannah and Meg, stopped their own texting and looked relieved to see me.

‘I can’t believe what’s just happened!’ Clementine wailed without taking her eyes from her phone. ‘I
knew
something had to go wrong!’

‘Everything’s fine downstairs,’ I reassured her. ‘If this is about the ushers, they’re all here and before you ask, yes, they’ve all
had a shave. I sent a barber up to their rooms this morning, just in case Jason had forgotten to arrange it.’ I didn’t let grooms ‘forget’ anything as important as a proper shave.

‘Did you?’ Clemmie looked momentarily pleased, then the anxious crease returned to her forehead. The make-up artist tried to powder over it.

‘Rosie, there’s a major guest problem,’ said Hannah, the more anxious of the two bridesmaids.

Meg’s fixed grin widened. ‘Don’t say
problem
.’

‘Of course it’s not a problem,’ I assured her. ‘There’s nothing I can’t fix, believe me, I’ve seen it all before.’

‘I’m not sure you can fix this.’ Clemmie started to chew her lip, remembered her perfect lipstick and clenched her fists instead. ‘You remember my cousin in Cirencester? Katherine?’

I did. That had been a
long
phone call. I’d had to make it because Clementine was terrified of Katherine, and after thirty minutes of haranguing I could see why. Katherine hadn’t been happy about her daughter’s lack of invitation, to put it mildly. But I had a variety of excellent explanations as to why the Bonneville preferred tot-less weddings, from insurance reasons right up to spiky floral arrangements; also, I didn’t accept Katherine’s furious insistence that not inviting Maisie was a contravention of her human rights, or that Clementine was being a selfish Bridezilla.
Bridezilla
wasn’t a word in my vocabulary.

‘Of course I do,’ I said.

‘Well, she’s here.’ Clementine swallowed.

‘Wonderful!’ I patted her on the shoulder and surreptitiously checked my watch. ‘I knew all those threats about boycotting
the wedding were just blackmail. That makes a full row of your cousins, and—’

‘No, I mean, Maisie’s here, too. Her daughter. Mum’s just seen her arrive.’ Clementine’s forehead tightened. ‘Katherine brought Maisie anyway. Even though I told her
no one’s
children were coming.’

Brilliant. I rolled my eyes inwardly. There was always
one
.

‘That’s absolutely fine, Clementine.’ I immediately began calculating contingency seating plans. Irritating, but I always allowed for three unexpected guests. ‘I’ll ask the catering team to set an extra place with her mother—’

‘No, no, it’s worse than that.’ Clemmie’s voice was sharpening with anxiety. ‘
Apparently
, Katherine’s dressed Maisie in the exact same colour as the bridesmaids. That was why she was asking me all those questions about the colour scheme! It wasn’t so she could coordinate her own outfit at all! It was so she could put Maisie in my bridal party even though I told her we weren’t even having my godchildren as flower girls!’

I kept my expression sympathetic but inside I was karate-chopping the rhino hide of the bold Katherine. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. There was often one mother who refused to believe that ‘no children’ could apply to
their
gorgeous cherubs and smuggled them in anyway, brazenly attaching them to the back of the bridal procession like a limpet mine, while everyone was cooing at the action taking place at the business end.

‘My cousin Joss is
already
going ballistic, look!’ Clemmie brandished her phone in my face. ‘I’ve had
weeks
of people
trying to get an invite for their kids, and I said, I’m sorry but it’s only fair if it’s no children
at all
, and now they’ll all think I made a special exception for Maisie! I mean, she’s the last kid I’d have had as a bridesmaid! I thought she was a
boy
until she was four!’

‘Clementine!’ said her mother reproachfully.

‘Tilly would have loved to have been a flower girl,’ said Meg, looking distinctly unimpressed. ‘And I wouldn’t have had to drive to Macclesfield to leave her with Jack’s mother.’

‘I’ve
said
I’m sorry, Meg …’

Hannah’s phone pinged and everyone stared at her.

‘Um, it’s from Serena,’ said Hannah, awkwardly. ‘She says …’

‘I think we can guess,’ I said, firmly. ‘No need to read it out.’

‘This is meant to be the happiest day of my life!’ Clemmie spun round on the dressing-table stool. Her eyes were wild and hungry in the way only those of a woman who hasn’t eaten anything white for six months can be. ‘And I’m going to spend it apologizing to every single parent here!’

‘I promise you won’t,’ I said. ‘Clemmie, look at me. You’re going to have a wonderful wedding. The day we’ve been planning. Your special day.’

Then I put a calming hand on her arm and looked right into her face, a trick my old boss Caroline had taught me years ago. It also worked on dogs.

After a tremulous second, Clemmie sniffed and managed a broken smile, and I knew what I had to do. It was just a gatecrasher issue, that was all. Any events manager worth her
salt could handle a gatecrasher, even one in a pistachio satin bridesmaid’s dress.

*

I marched briskly down the carpeted corridors I’d come to know like the back of my hand over the years, and asked myself a question that went through my head at least twice a day, more often at weddings: ‘What would Caroline Bentley Douglas do now?’

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